Let’s Eat Ramen and Other Doujinshi Short Stories by Nagumo Aji-Ichi

Let's Eat RamenFrom Goodreads:

Doujinshi, otherwise known as independent manga in Japan, is rarely published in English. In fact, it’s considered underground and quite exclusive in its home country of Japan as well. Let’s Eat Ramen and Other Doujinshi Short Stories finally gives western readers an exclusive look at the elusive world of contemporary Japanese doujinshi manga. Let’s East Ramen is a three-part tale of Saeki, a girl who loves ramen noodles. At last, she thinks that she has finally found the perfect ramen shop, but the problem is the shop is completely full of old regulars and she can’t get in. Will the timid Saeki ever summon the willpower to reach out and get the ramen that she desperately wants?

Like:

The stories are all cute and memorable.  They’re also a nice change from the regular manga stuff.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love manga.  But after lots of magical girls, dramatic fights, and funny wizards, I need a palate cleaner.  Let’s Eat Ramen is a great palate cleaner.  And it’s really entertaining.  The characters are relatable and only slightly overblown in relation to real life.

Didn’t Like:

The stories have very little to do with each other.  They work as a talent showcase, but there’s not a lot of cohesion.  And you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  The stories are enjoyable on their own.

Overall:

Quirky and catchy.  Not mind blowing but it stays with you. A very enjoyable read.

3/4 Throwing Stars

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The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian CoverFrom Goodreads:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Like:

This being made into a movie for one very big reason.  While reading it I could see the movie in my head.  It’s very cinematic.  And has all the hallmarks of a blockbuster: suspense (check), life threatening ordeals (check), scared yet plucky hero (check), jokes about the horrors of disco and seventies TV series (checks).

This book does what so few survival novels do.  There is plenty of suspense and life threatening situations.  The entire book is one big life threatening situation.  And yet it manages to keep a lighthearted atmosphere.  Mark makes jokes and never gives up.  It stops the book from ever getting too dark and it would be so easy for it to become that.  It makes it a breathe of fresh air.

This might not be big for everyone but it is for me.  The science in this is real.  I’m a bit of a buff and finding something that doesn’t drive me nuts with wonky explanations is more exciting that it should be.

Didn’t Like:

I know how I just said I like science, but there were times when I wanted Mark to shorten the math and get on with it.  The math can slow down the novel right when it’s picking up steam.  At other times I loved the math.  I just depended on whether it added or detracted to the suspense.  This was about the only thing I didn’t enjoy.  The rest of it was riveting.

Overall:

I want more books like this.  Not dark but not too light.  With real science but not so technical that you feel like your reading a manual.  Truly delightful.

4/4 Throwing Stars

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder Meyer

From Goodreads:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Like:

I keep meaning to review Cinder,… and then not doing it.  But today is finally the day!  As a side note I listened to the audio book version of Cinder.  This is worth noting because usually I hate audio books.  Cinder is the exception.  The audio book is so fabulous that I will only listen to subsequent books in the series on audio book only.

What don’t I like about this book?  The plot is intricate without being convoluted and keeps you guessing.  Cinder is clearly a Cinderalla remake but at the same time completely remakes the story.  Evil Stepmother – check.  Stepsisters – check.  Handsome prince that doesn’t realize Cinder is poor/cyborg – check.  A fancy ball and dancing with the prince – check.  But Cinderella as a cyborg, with a deadly plague on the loose, and moon people who can make you think and see whatever they want is completely original and I love them all.  Most Cinderella remakes I read feel boring and have a paint-by-number vibe.  Cinder is refreshingly new.  Take out the ball and it could claim not to be a Cinderella retelling and I would love it just as much.

Now Cinder herself.  Oh Cinder.  Cinder isn’t perfect.  She jumps to conclusions, acts irrationally, doubts herself, and can be very grumpy at times.  She has to make plenty of moral choices that she grapples with, and (my favorite part) she tries to think through the consequences to find a choice she can live with.  All of which makes her completely believable as a person.  She is no perfect princess.  She prefers grease and mechanical parts to fancy clothes.  She feels like a natural product of her cyberpunk, disease ravaged world.

Which brings me to the world building.  Cinder has a lot of moving parts in it.  A lot.  There are the cyborgs and androids that get treated like second class citizens.  The plague that has everyone is terrified of and is killing a large percentage of the population.  Then there are the Lunars (moon people!!) who have powers that are a huge threat to Earth, and want to take over Earth.  Then you add a fairy tale skeleton.  And all these parts interact and affect each other.  Phew!  There are plenty of books that would have just tackled one of these elements.  Some might say that with this many bits and pieces, Meyer is only able to scratch the surface of each.  And they would be right.  But I don’t care.  If Meyer delved any deeper into the world building, the main plot would be overpowered with info dumping.  I’m going to hope the rest of the series continues to develop the world as it develops the plot.  You learn just enough for everything to make sense and have a cohesion that lets you get completely absorbed.

Didn’t Like:

Oh Prince Kai.  I love watching you and Cinder verbally spar, but what kind of prince in a tense political situation hangs out with and flirts openly with a girl he barely knows irrespective of what it would mean to his kingdom?  I can ignore some realistic inconsistencies (I’m afraid of what this says about me as a reader), but that bugged me.  Kai should know better.  He has been raised his entire life to rule his kingdom and he decides to trust Cinder without investigating her first, and discusses sensitive political information with her.  That stretches credibility a little too far.  Secondly none of his advisers warn him, or council him to be careful about her.  It just struck me as very odd.

Also, some of the mystery plot elements are fairly obvious and I just want the characters to make the connections already and stop being obtuse.  I know that would change the plot and that this is the first book in a series, but I get frustrated with how slow they can be on the uptake.

Overall:

I found this book thoroughly refreshing; both as a fairy tale retelling, a young adult novel, and a cyberpunk story.  Despite its faults, I enjoyed it enough that I am going to go get the next audio book as soon as I get done writing this.

4/4 Throwing Stars

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Twelfth Night Secrets by Jane Feather

Summary from goodreads.com:

A touching and sexy Christmas-themed historical romance from New York Times bestselling author Jane Feather in which a young woman must carry out a spy mission against the man she loves in honor of her recently deceased brother.

Lady Harriet Devere travels to Oxfordshire with her two younger siblings for their annual family holiday gathering. Now orphaned, the trio has recently lost their eldest brother Nicholas, who died serving his country in battle. Before his death, Nicholas had entrusted Harriet with a secret: he was working as a British spy, recruited to follow in their father’s footsteps. Nicholas uses Harriet as an accomplice, expecting her to relay simple messages to his contacts while he was abroad. After his death, Harriet is suddenly asked to fulfill a request much more in-depth than those of the past.
Harriet must keep an eye on Julius Forsythe, Earl of Marbury, who, while also a spy for the British, is believed to be a double agent also working for the French. Harriet is expected to follow his every move to determine his status as a traitor. But before long, she begins to admire the Earl, and her romantic feelings are reciprocated. As the adventure unfolds, Harriet must do her best to honor the wish of her dearly loved brother, while attempting to keep the man she loves from harm.

An okay but quick romance read without any real conflict/resolution. The story primarily revolves around Lady Harriet and her endeavor to discover Lord Marbury’s involvement in her brother’s death, and secondarily, his possible role as a traitor to the British Crown.  It’s not a well-balanced romance as we spend the majority of the word count focusing on Harriet’s conflicting feelings about his attraction and status as a possible traitor/brother-killer. She’s drawn to Marbury’s thoughtfulness, “deep eyes,” and commanding nature. In turn, he’s drawn in by her beauty, intelligence and just-something-about-her-that-is-never-really-elaborated-on. The actual romance between the two is neither compelling nor convincing and is really only present since a romantic pairing is sort of a deal breaker for a romance novel. The reveal of Marbury’s involvement is rushed and anticlimactic, with Harriet’s reaction/acceptance of it just as bad.

2/5 Hoots

2 Chili peppers? (This more Royal’s thing)

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Her Favorite Temptation by Sarah Mayberry

18184035Summary (from goodreads.com):

Two people facing crossroads in their lives discover friendship and love in this touching novella by fan favorite Harlequin Superromance author Sarah Mayberry.

Leah Mathews has always been the good sister, the favored one who could do no wrong. But as her thirtieth birthday looms, she’s ready to step out of her parents’ shadow and make changes in her life. She’s even more inspired by the sexy musician who moves in next door and his seize-the-day attitude. And tempted to take comfort in his arms…

Will Jones is facing the prospect of losing the career he loves–and possibly his life–to a sudden illness. When he meets Leah, he feels a powerful connection to her, and flirting with a smart, beautiful woman seems like the perfect way to spend the weeks before his risky operation.

But as their relationship heats up, Leah still doesn’t know the truth about Will’s situation. Will their bond be strong enough to face the challenges yet to come?

Review:

If someone had handed me a copy of this book and said, “Would you like to read a romance novel in which one of the protagonists is secretly suffering from a life-threatening illness?” I would have said, “Hell no.” Not even a guaranteed happily ever after can wash the Nicholas Sparks stench from that offer. (This is not a judgment of the many people who like Nicholas Sparks. His books are just not my cup of tea.)

But, if that same someone had said, “Would you like to read a romance novel by that delightful Australian woman who writes for Neighbours and gave that great interview on the DBSA podcast? The main character is an anxious overachiever who’s finally trying to take control of her life. Also, there will be a Tortured Hero, and lots of things that remind you of all of those Brené Brown TED talks on vulnerability and shame you’ve been watching lately, and you will want to re-read it pretty much the moment you’re done,” I would have said “YES PLEASE.”

Needless to say, I read the whole book in one sitting once I figured out what was going on there.

Do not be put off by the Harlequin Superromance thing, if you are wary of category romances like I was after trying several that just did not do it for me. Thanks to some recommendations on the aforementioned DBSA podcast, I discovered that there are some GREAT category romance authors out there. Sarah Mayberry is one of them. I will now be reading her entire backlist. The only downside is that libraries traditionally don’t collect categories, so I will be paying out of pocket for the pleasure.

Discovering that there’s a whole world of great contemporary romances waiting in Harlequin’s category lines has been a very pleasant surprise. I’ve been having trouble finding contemporary romances that aren’t all about small towns, marriage, and babies. (Nice things, but not what I want from my life at the moment, which makes it difficult for me to properly enjoy the story.) Last winter, I learned that I need to hit up Avon when I’m craving a good historical. Now I have a source to feed the contemporary cycle of my addiction.

Also, the heroes in both Mayberry books I’ve read so far are strong, confident, and sexy as hell, but they are not stereotypical alpha males. Have I talked about how sick I am of stereotypical alpha male romance heroes? I am so. sick. of them. (Especially when they are also billionaires.) It’s so incredibly refreshing to read about men who treat the women in their lives as equals. No protecting, no possessing. Do you know how rare that is in Romancelandia? It’s the generic equivalent of the kakapo.

Not to mention the fact that Zach, the hero in Her Favorite Rival (the companion novel about Leah’s sister, Audrey, which you should also read), is super buff because he’s a runner. He runs, like, 10k a day. None of this “I have abs of steel without trying” bs. It’s awesome.

If that didn’t sell you: contemporary romance set in Australia. Melbourne is now #2 on my dream vacation list. (Paris is first and Amsterdam/Scotland have slid down to 3rd/4th place.) The only downside to this book, as far as I’m concerned, is that Will wrote a love song for Leah. I find the whole concept so off-putting that I had to reassure myself that–should I happen to fall in love with an internationally renowned musician–I can make him promise never to commit such an atrocity against me. But that’s my own personal pet peeve.

In short: highly recommended to anyone who likes a good non-inspirational contemporary romance.

Spiciness Rating:

1.5/4 chili peppers

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Hedging His Bets by Celia Kyle and Mina Carter

17791344Summary (from goodreads.com):

Honey loves running her bar and grill, catering to humans and shifters alike. But there are two things that dim her love of the place: cocky assholes who think they own the world, and cocky assholes who think they can flex their muscles and wreck her bar when throwing a temper tantrum. Unfortunately, the drop-dead gorgeous, hotter than hot, shifter man she secretly loves is both.

Blake wants the curvaceous, gorgeous Honey in his bed. Now. He’s lusted (but not loved, let’s get that straight) after the luscious woman for months. True, he looks like a bad-boy biker mixed with a player and, yeah, he’s broken a few things in her bar… But only because the guys were hitting on his girl. With no hope of winning her over in sight, he does what any red-blooded werehedgehog would do in his position. He lies.

Review:

Okay, is that not the BEST PREMISE YOU HAVE EVER HEARD? And by best, I mean most wonderfully ridiculous. Fat lady bartenders? Awesome! Werehedgehogs? Bring it on! I am so pleased that this is a real thing in the world that I downloaded it from All Romance eBooks to ensure that the authors got a decent cut of the proceeds from this sale. That said, here’s the review I posted on Facebook (which is how I ended up reading a werehedgehog shifter BBW erotic romance novella in the first place):

“In general, I try not to trash books; most books that don’t work for me are someone else’s cup of tea. But boy howdy, Hedging His Bets is a cluster. Absolutely no chemistry or believable feelings of love between the hero and the heroine, some super problematic “sexy alpha” bs (note: stalking, manipulating, and lying to women to get them to sleep with you is not a testament to your love; it’s abuse), and some truly [awful] sex scenes that were the written equivalent of bad porn. ALSO THE HEROINE REFERS TO HERSELF AS “FLUFFY” AT LEAST THREE TIMES WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN. At least there was a werehedgehog fight in a dark alley?

“Which is to say: some people like this sort of thing. I am not one of them. And that’s okay. We can all still be friends.”

I’d like to add that the quality of the writing and the tone of the sex scenes so didn’t work for me. I also wish there had been more backstory. There was no depth to the characters or the plot, and I prefer my outlandish concepts to be balanced with a healthy dose of emotional realism (or at least plausibility). Also, the heroine’s behavior with her rescue “hedgies” seemed really weird to me. I definitely curl up on the floor with my dog for cuddles while I baby talk to her, though, so I am in no position to judge fictional pet owners.

I’m kinda bummed, to tell you the truth, because this story had the potential to be something I really liked! (It’s pretty much exactly what I expected it would be, but I was secretly hoping that it would be completely different.) Badass biker shapeshifter is insecure about the fact that he turns into a hedgehog? Let’s question our assumptions about masculinity. Fat woman who thinks hot guys aren’t into her because of her size? Let’s totally deal with that shit in a realistic way. The bones of this story are great, as far as I’m concerned. But the execution was SO not my thing. (Although it has quite a few 3, 4, and 5 star reviews on Goodreads, which means that this story will probably work for you if you’re a fan of the genre/style.)

Seriously, though, kudos to these authors for going all in with this concept. I can’t tell if they’re rocking out with their own weird interests (if so, rock on!) or if they thought that “werehedgehog shifter BBW erotic romance” would catch people’s attention and sell well. Maybe a little bit of both? Personally, I hope that it started as a joke between the authors. “What’s the least sexy shifter out there? Hedgehog, definitely hedgehog. OH MY GOD LET’S WRITE A STORY ABOUT THAT IT WILL BE AWESOME.”

Anyway. In summary, not recommended for readers who aren’t interested in quintessential self-published erotica.

Quality Rating: 1/5 crowns

Spiciness Rating: 5/4 chili peppers (There were only a couple of sex scenes, which were REALLY GRAPHIC. Like, “I can’t read this” graphic.)

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Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

16002011Summary (from goodreads.com)

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely—until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders. At stake is funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms—but not both.

It’s only going to get worse: after both parties are stripped of their funding on grounds of abominable misbehavior, Nate enrolls the club’s robot in a battlebot competition in a desperate bid for prize money. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not. Running away from home on Thanksgiving to illicitly enter a televised robot death match? Of course!

In Faith Erin Hicks’ and Prudence Shen’s world of high school class warfare and robot death matches, Nothing can possibly go wrong.

Review

STOP. THE. PRESSES. The Royal We actually read a YA book that wasn’t required reading for book club or freelance work?! It’s only the, um, second time I’ve done that this year (first was the lovely Pinned by Sharon G. Flake in February), mostly because I’ve been following my reading bliss and indulging in some serious escapism with romance novels. And after finishing Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, I’m wondering why I don’t read teen books for funsies more often. Graphic novels, especially!

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is my favorite kind of funny book. The basic plot is implausible in a teen movie way (war between nerds and cheerleaders! robot death matches!), but it balances the silliness with realistic characters. Charlie’s absent mom is getting remarried and his dad travels a lot for work, so he starts to crack under the added pressure of the election shenanigans and ensuing chaos. The other characters–neurotic Nate, nerdy Johanna, scheming cheerleader Holly–can be a little over-the-top in everything but their relationships with Charlie.

This is my first time reading a graphic novel illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks and I really, really like her art style. Her visuals have the timing of a great comedian; she knows exactly how to arrange her images for maximum hilarity. I loved that the characters didn’t have overly stylized appearances. The cheerleaders looked like the cheerleaders I went to high school with, unlike a lot of actresses who play cheerleaders in movies but look like supermodels. I’m planning to pick up Friends with Boys ASAP for more FEH goodness.

In summary: highly recommended. Also, I desperately want Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong to be optioned by an indie film company and made into a snarky teen movie. It would be amazing on screen.

Rating (Quality): 4/5 stars

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